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Democracy in America

Cover of Democracy in America

Democracy in America

In 1831, a young French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States officially to appraise the country's penal system—but with a higher personal goal in mind. Looking to America's unique democratic system as a possible model for post-revolutionary France, Tocqueville set about to study the culture, character, and institutions of the evolving nation. "I confess that in America I saw more than America," he said; "I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope from its progress." His resulting work, the classic Democracy in America, proved so insightful and prophetic that it continues to command the attention of historians, scholars, and politicians today.

In 1831, a young French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States officially to appraise the country's penal system—but with a higher personal goal in mind. Looking to America's unique democratic system as a possible model for post-revolutionary France, Tocqueville set about to study the culture, character, and institutions of the evolving nation. "I confess that in America I saw more than America," he said; "I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope from its progress." His resulting work, the classic Democracy in America, proved so insightful and prophetic that it continues to command the attention of historians, scholars, and politicians today.

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About the Author-
  • Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) was a French sociologist and historian. He was active in law and politics, serving for a time as foreign minister, and wrote L'Ancien Reacutegime, a social and political study of prerevolutionary France.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 9, 2004
    It's hard to think of a work that has so influenced our understanding of the United States as this—still the most authoritative, reflective set of observations about American institutions and the American character ever written. That its author was a Frenchman, and an aristocrat at that, and that he was balanced and penetrating has often occasioned rueful surprise. However, de Tocqueville's distance from his subject is precisely what lends his observations such continuing currency. A few decades ago, for instance, we read Tocqueville for his prediction that Russia and the United States would one day contest for pre-eminence. Now, we ought to read him (Iraqis and Afghans should, too) for his classic analyses of the link between political parties and free associations and for his reflections on such matters as religion and public life, and "self-interest properly understood." But many solid translations exist. Why another? Because the Library of America would be incomplete without this canonical work of history and sociology. And this translation by Goldhammer, the dean of American translators from the French, accomplishes what it's hard to believe possible: it lends to this unalterably grave work some zest. Never slipping into slang, it gives a colloquial cast, fitting for our time, to a work normally rendered only with high solemnity. The Library of America claims that its editions will stay in print forever. This one's likely to stand that test.

  • New York Times "No better study of a nation's institutions and culture than Tocqueville's Democracy in America has ever been written by a foreign observer; none perhaps as good."
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    Blackstone Audio, Inc.
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